Students and alumni of Howard University’s Department of Radio, Television and Film recently circulated a petition to save the undergraduate program from rumored budget cuts and program merger in the School of Communication. Citing years of financial neglect against its impact and foundation for professionals of color in media culture, the past and future graduates of the program hope to save it from a sweeping trend at HU and other HBCUs in cutting once-popular degree programs.
The department at Howard carries a little more weight than other program cuts we’ve seen around the country. Few other institutions, HBCU or PWI, have done what Howard has done to produce capable professionals, executives and content creators in the media arts. But even the Mecca is not immune from the challenging realities of the business of higher education. Historically black colleges face economic and political scrutiny to cut costs while increasing value, and lagging academic programs are the primary casualty in the fight to keep minority students enrolled and interested in formerly popular majors in a changing job climate.
HBCUs find themselves in an interesting place. They are the best at graduating minorities who go on to earn advanced degrees in the S.T.E.M disciplines, and this success prompts them to strengthen the profile of the undergraduate programs in the same fields. Sponsored research, public relations, and presidential lobbying all fall in line in the effort to generate more scientists, engineers and researchers that will boost the nation’s productivity in a technologically-starved, shrinking global economy.
The result is diminished marketing, faculty and student retention and executive focus on those majors that still shape the identity of the American society. Foreign languages, literary and performance arts, history and philosophy, are commonly the first programs to be quickly and dishonorably laid to rest.
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